BRANDON — The town of Brandon will begin fiscal year 2014 without a budget.
The proposed $3,201,842 municipal budget (with $2,385,642 to be raised by taxes) was voted down on Tuesday by fewer than 50 votes, 371-326, sending the selectboard back to the budget workshop table again.
The 697 total votes amount to a roughly 25 percent voter turnout.
The budget was defeated despite the selectboard answering a re-vote challenge and cutting a proposed town spending increase from $233,000 to $138,000 for a total increase of 6.17 percent. If passed, the new budget would have resulted in a proposed tax rate of 73.26 cents per $100 of property value, up from the current rate of 68.78 cents, a roughly 4.5-cent increase.
The fiscal year ends on June 30. The next budget vote will likely be scheduled in July.
The saga of Brandon’s town budget began on Town Meeting Day in March when a heftier town budget proposal that sported a 10.3 percent increase in spending passed, 428-420. That budget would have resulted in a 7-cent hike in the tax rate.
Then a petition for a re-vote was mounted, the requisite number of signatures (564, or 20 percent of the electorate) was collected, and the budget went back to the voters on April 30. It was soundly defeated on re-vote, 672-390.
Since then, the selectboard has held numerous public budget meetings, taken public comment and direction from the voters and trimmed another $95,000 from the spending plan.
Those cuts included:
• Reducing the salary for the proposed full-time recreation director by $7,850, from $44,850 to $37,000.
• Cutting $35,000 for sidewalk repair for a year.
• Cutting $35,000 for bridge engineering for a year.
One of the reasons organizers petitioned for a re-vote was that they did not feel well-informed about the budget or the process. Since then, organizers have praised the selectboard for its transparency and willingness to listen to voters. And the board members, too, have said they are more educated about the budget, vowing to continue working on transparency.
But it seems that many of those who voted “no” on Tuesday made up their minds without information. Turnout was dismal for the public information meeting held at the Neshobe School on Monday evening. Only 37 of the roughly 200 folding chairs set up in the school gymnasium were occupied. The meeting lasted one hour, and in the end, Brandon resident Wayne Rausenberger stood and summed up his feelings about the evening.
“A lot of people in town were complaining they were not informed,” he said. “And as I look around, this turnout is pathetic. So, these people have nothing to complain about; this is really pathetic.”
Reached by phone after the vote count Tuesday night, selectboard Chair Devon Fuller shared Rausenberger’s frustration.
“I’m disappointed and I don’t know what people want,” he said. “There were 37 people at that meeting last night. I don’t know where the other 334 people were.”
The full-time recreation director position is one that Fuller and the board have fought to keep, maintaining that amenities like a healthy recreation department will attract people to town and improve the quality of life. Many of those who organized the re-vote were opposed to spending money on the rec director position. Recreation spending amounts to 2.3 percent of the total town budget.
It was suggested to Fuller that perhaps the voters don’t want a recreation department at all, despite the fact that almost 150 kids are currently enrolled in the department’s Little League program.
“Maybe they don’t, but how do we know that?” he asked. “It’s frustrating to tell what people want when they don’t show up to tell you. I don’t want to cut the rec department. If we don’t have a full-time rec director, we might as well not have one at all.”
Fuller said the board may have to start cutting staff and services, including taking the addition of a fourth Public Works employee out of the budget.
“We’ll see,” he said. “Why is a small portion of the population working so hard to create something? It would be nice to have (other) people get involved, and they just don’t.”